Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» 2017 Adjusted Games Lost

Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

10 Jan 2018

Scramble for the Ball: Over/Under Review

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week, we hark back to a simpler, more innocent time -- when starting quarterbacks ruled the fields in Green Bay and Arizona, when the AFC's most disruptive defensive player had two intact femurs, and when rumors persisted that even a mythical creature identified in the annals by the common name of "Andrew Luck" might see actual, real live playing time in 2017.

Bryan: I'm really not looking forward to going back and discussing our preseason projections, because I'm fairly sure I didn't do super-great. I checked in on my game-by-game predictions on Twitter last week, and while I beat the equivalent of a blind monkey throwing darts at a rotating board (i.e., "every team goes 8-8!" or "every team has the same record as 2016!"), that's not saying a heck of a lot. I'm pretty sure I'm going to go back and point and laugh at August Bryan for thinking he knew what was what.

Andrew: Of course you are, otherwise what's the point in making predictions?

Bryan: More to the point, you probably did better than I did. And you hate making predictions. That's gonna sting. Well, I suppose it's good medicine, and maybe we can learn something from this painful exercise.

Andrew: Painful exercise is a key aspect of enhanced strength and conditioning. Which is a big part of why I'm weak and out of shape.

Bryan: Well, while I'm already staggering after my "pick all the Rams" strategy in the staff playoff thing blew up in my face, let's just add some injury to injury. Much like the 2017 season did to a veritable cavalcade of stars.


Andrew: We start in the AFC East, as we did in our preseason columns. If you want to see what we thought would happen in August, you can read the column here. For those with less patience, here's the tl;dr:

Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Buffalo 6 Over Over Over +3
Miami 7.5 Under Under Under -1.5
New England 12.5 Over Over Over +0.5
New York Jets 4.5 Under Under Over +0.5
Overall 3-1 3-1

Bryan We called the AFC East the "easiest division to pick in football," and well, I don't think we were wrong. What the Jets managed to do with essentially no perceived talent was remarkable this year, and they still only bounced over their line by half a game.

Andrew: I admit, I was quite alarmed by New England's start -- losing two of their first three at home to Kansas City and Carolina. We weren't sure where three losses would come from, but their opening performances on defense soon answered that question. They've only lost once since though, in typical Belichickian fashion, and still reached both the over and the AFC's No. 1 seed.


Bryan: And New England normally starts off a little slower than average -- they have a winning percentage of .727 in September over the past 10 years, as opposed to .780 the rest of the way. It's only half a game, but they do seem to take a little tiny bit of time to wind up to full speed.

That argument would be stronger if I had thought the Chiefs would be any good this year and thus hadn't also panicked after Week 1, but that's a discussion for the AFC West section.

Andrew: You did, however, just about nail Buffalo: "They mostly hold serve at home (excluding New England), sweeping the Jets and Dolphins. They rise to 10-6, McDermott becomes Coach of the Year, and they end the longest playoff drought in the NFL."

You heard it here first, folks! (Except the bit about sweeping the Jets, anyway.)

Bryan: You also heard "Sammy Watkins and Anquan Boldin serve as a solid one-two punch for [Tyrod] Taylor," which, I mean, I suppose isn't theoretically wrong. And thinking Nathan Peterman is a starting NFL quarterback eliminates you from Coach of the Year consideration not just for this year, but for perpetuity. But yeah, 6-10 was a strangely low bar they were asked to clear.

Andrew: As for Miami, well ... they turned up for all of their games! Incidentally, did we ever learn where the preseason line settled after Tannehill's injury? They were technically off the board when we wrote the column.

Bryan: It did indeed settle at 7.5, as Vegas apparently saw little difference between Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill. This was incorrect.

Andrew: I don't know whether to credit Adam Gase that they still won six games despite that offense, or deduct points for them having that offense on his watch in the first place. Which is oddly similar to my perspective on Sean McDonough's year with the Bills. And Todd Bowles' year in New York.

Bryan: There were three hotshot under-40 offensive-minded head coaches in the league this season. I'm pretty sure Dolphins fans feel the worst of the bunch, because oof. Again, I question why they thought Jay Cutler was a good emergency option compared to ... well, elephants in the room and all that, but nearly anyone else available. You really go out and convince Cutler to come off of a beach to save your season? Still a head-scratcher.

Andrew: All in all though, a pretty sound series of picks. Even the one we missed, we missed by half a game.


Andrew: One of us thought the NFC East would provide four teams that underperformed their projection. The other...

Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Dallas 9.5 Over Under Under -0.5
N.Y. Giants 9 Under Under Coffin -6
Philadelphia 8 Under Under Over +5
Washington 7.5 Over Under Under -0.5
Overall 1-3 3-1

Bryan: Alright, let the pointing and laughing begin.

Andrew: It actually wasn't that bad, because the two overs you picked were only one game out. They straddled that line nastily: a series split between Dallas and Washington would get you to 1-1, but Dallas won both so it's 0-2 for you.

Bryan: It's almost like Vegas is good enough at this to provide the foundation for a multi-billion dollar industry!

Andrew: The Giants, to me, were utterly predictable. Yes, they had a great receiver corps before they all got hurt, but defensive regression and an abominable offense outside that receiver corps had them doomed before the season began.

Bryan: They bounced from a defensive DVOA of 10.5% in 2015 to -15.0% in 2016 without adding a ton of new players. That definitely was a big flashing warning light of "regression" right there. I still think they would have done better if they hadn't had every single halfway competent offensive playmaker injured in September, but not 9-7 good.

And then, uh, we have Philadelphia. Um. Oops.

Andrew: Well, even Vegas missed by a long way on Philadelphia. Turns out this Carson Wentz kid can throw, and when he does even Nelson Agholor can catch it! Alshon Jeffery has been healthy, Jay Ajayi was a great addition to their backfield, their line is one of the best in the league, and that defense has been outstanding.

Bryan: I think that's where I missed the most, at least. I expected some improvement from Wentz after a "meh" rookie season that was somewhat hidden behind the Goffpocalypse, but I didn't see the defense being particularly stout at all. In retrospect, I should have -- it's not like they came out of nowhere; they were fourth in DVOA in 2016! But I had no faith in that secondary to handle the mighty passing attacks of, uh, Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins. And "arguably the best receiving corps in the league" in New York. Aye-yi-yi. Eagles fans, now you can @ me. One of my two biggest misses of the year.

Andrew: The secondary was a concern, though I did like the front seven. I also thought all the NFC East teams would finish under because they would beat up on each other, but the Eagles instead won every divisional game until the Week 17 clunker when home field was already wrapped up. It's just horrible for the game that they lost their starting quarterback for the year in the process, and now have to claw their way through the postseason with Nick Foles. They had a terrific year though, no matter what happens now, and appear to be set up beautifully for next season.


Andrew: We discussed our preseason predictions for the South divisions here.

Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Houston 8.5 Under Under Under -4.5
Indianapolis 8 Under Under Under -4
Jacksonville 6.5 Under Over Over +3.5
Tennessee 8.5 Under Under Over +0.5
Overall 2-2 3-1

Andrew: Was Jacksonville, perhaps, your other biggest miss of the year?

Bryan: No, I actually wouldn't say so, though obviously, it requires a bit of mea culpaing. I said that I loved the potential on defense, and it finally showed through on the field. I just didn't think that any amount of talent could hide Blake Bortles' many, many flaws.

Andrew: Those flaws are indeed many, and are not actually hidden very well. The rest of the team is just so good that it doesn't matter. This is a defense that went into Pittsburgh and dismantled the Steelers to the tune of five interceptions.

Bryan: You nailed it on the head: "build a stupendously good defense, draft a first-round running back, and hope Tom Savage throws more interceptions than Blake Bortles does." I'd call this more of a great prediction by you than a terrible prediction by me, if that makes sense. I mean, it's the Jacksonville Jaguars! In the playoffs! There's gotta be a "well, no one could have seen that coming" exception for bad picks!


Andrew: What about the rest of the division, then? The Titans are driving me mad this year, just as they did last year. I just cannot understand how they keep scraping together wins.

Bryan: It's because Marcus Mariota is a good quarterback when you let him do Marcus Mariota things. It's just that the entire offensive philosophy in Tennessee is about avoiding that as much as possible, so he ends up looking terrible for three quarters of every game. Coming back to beat the Chiefs and saving Mike Mularkey's job might be the worst thing for Mariota's career.

Andrew: Exactly. When your entire offensive philosophy is to hide your best offensive player, and rely on him tunneling out of the coaches' burrow ... the Titans have the talent to be a much better team, but also the roster holes to be a much worse one, and through weird convergences even out to a slightly above average record. They could win the division or get the first overall pick next season, and neither outcome would surprise me. Frustrate me, sure, but not surprise me.

Bryan: Quarterback injuries account for the other two unders here, both of which we hit. Projecting the Colts to be 8-8 through Andrew Luck's injury was a head-scratcher, though at least the Colts didn't "rush him back for Week 1" as we feared. In Houston, we both assumed that a Tom Savage-led Texans team would be terrible, and we were eventually proven right!

Andrew: Not, however, before Deshaun Watson also overcame his coach's follies.

Bryan: And the Colts just fired their coach, too. Imagine what this division would be like with competent coaching! I mean, Doug Marrone is the best coach in the division, and that's ... I mean, no offense to Marrone, but...

Andrew: More frighteningly, with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson injured, Blake Bortles has been this division's best quarterback. We really need to get those guys back on the field soon, for all our sakes.

Bryan: Terrifying.

Andrew: It doesn't bear thinking about. So we won't.


Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Atlanta 9.5 Under Over Over +0.5
Carolina 8.5 Over Over Over +2.5
New Orleans 8 Under Under Over +3
Tampa Bay 8.5 Under Under Under -3.5
Overall 2-2 3-1

Bryan: Hahahaha, people thought the Buccaneers would have a winning record.

Andrew: Oi! Relentless mockery of the Buccaneers is my domain!

... I actually thought they would be better than they were, though not as good as the preseason line. In the end though, pretty much every single thing that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. Everything we wrote in the book came to pass, from DeSean Jackson not having the expected impact to offensive line struggles, from lack of pass rush to coverage follies, a rash of injuries and depth concerns, and the witch who has evidently hexed their special teams.

Bryan: Jameis Winston is also kind of settling into the "he is what he is" territory -- not a terrible starter by any means, but not someone who is going to single-handedly overcome the various poxes, hexes, and curses the rest of the team seems to face.

Andrew: I actually wrote basically that same thing in the book, too. We know what Winston is: excellent tools, physical specimen, great pocket mobility and tough to bring down, but also inaccurate and turnover-prone.

Bryan: I still think you can build a regularly contending team with Winston at quarterback, so maybe that Tampa Bay bandwagon will ride again after some more tinkering in the shop, but it always seemed at least a year too soon.

Andrew: The thing in Tampa Bay, as others have pointed out, is that Lovie Smith was fired and Dirk Koetter promoted specifically to retain Koetter, after he drew interest from other teams following Winston's rookie year. It turns out that Winston's rookie year was just Winston being who Winston is, and in fact had very little to do with Koetter. Now his offense may, in fact, be part of the problem, because it's asking Winston to do things (oh, it's a go route to DeSean Jackson) that Winston has never been able to do with any consistency. I also have no idea how Nate Kaczor is still employed by this team. So yes, the Buccaneers have a chance, but there is a lot of work to be done on a team that has some fantastic star players but an awful lot of issues around those players.

Bryan: Elsewhere in the division, we had this gem from me: "Can [the Saints] really be that terrible on defense for the fourth year in a row"? And then I entirely ignored that and went "yeah, I bet they can" and took the under. I'm going to blame you for talking me into that, and not mention it was one of the first ones I penciled in when I first wrote down Vegas' totals.

Andrew: Nobody saw the Saints defense coming. Marshon Lattimore in particular has been a complete revelation. Yes, Alex Okafor and A.J. Klein have been upgrades. Yes, not having Jairus Byrd anymore has undoubtedly been addition by subtraction. Yes, some of the young guys have developed well. Lattimore, however, is by far the biggest difference: a genuine All-Pro candidate as a rookie cornerback is just, well, incredible.

Bryan: "I actually do like Marshon Lattimore quite a bit," I said, "but the Saints defense wasn't something that could be bolstered by one promising rookie." Turns out, if you get, like, four rookies who go beyond promising to "really good starters" in their rookie year, you get a team that might be the best in the NFC! And Drew Brees, of course, is still Drew Brees. And will be until age finally causes him to fall apart, but that's a problem for future New Orleans to worry about.

Andrew: Atlanta did not develop like I thought they would, particularly on defense. I expected the offense to drop off, because 2016's performance was unsustainable, but I thought the defense would pick up the slack. It didn't quite work out like I had expected, though 22nd in DVOA is better than 27th. Still, given all of the circumstances around the team, I think the 2017 was a success overall. Now that they're in the postseason, with a better-than-awful chance against the Wentz-less Eagles, anything can happen.

Bryan:We both hit Carolina's bounceback on the head, too -- a last-place schedule plus defensive improvement plus Cam Newton was a pretty easy over to hit, though one day, I'd love for Carolina to put a coherent collection of offensive talent around him. Maybe now that Mike Shula and Ken Dorsey have been fired, they can bring in a hot young coordinator from the college game who can understand how to play to Newton's strengths and oh damn it they're looking at Norv Turner.

Andrew: I just noticed that even in preseason, I was criticizing the Panthers receivers for the exact same failing I complained about Devin Funchess exhibiting in the wild-card game. Not everything in this sport is predictable, but some things never change.


Andrew: Our Western division article can be read in its entirety here.

Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Denver 8.5 Under Under Under -3.5
Kansas City 9 Under Over Over +1
L.A. Chargers 7.5 Over Under Over +1.5
Oakland 10 Under Under Under -4
Overall 3-1 3-1

Bryan: I am going to reiterate my hate for whole-number lines here. As I said in the column in August, it forced me to decide if the Chiefs were an 8-8 team or a 10-6 team. I flipped a coin and got it wrong. Shenanigans! Shenanigans, I say!

Andrew: I was very pleased with how this preseason prediction turned out, right up until they hit that crazy skid in the middle of the year, losing what was it? Six of seven games? Flanked by a 5-0 start and a 4-0 finish.

Bryan: It's hard to reconcile the team that crushed the Patriots in Week 1 with the one that lost to the Giants in overtime in Week 11. This was a weird season.

Andrew: The Chiefs are fairly unique, in that their offense relies so much on the diversity of their top three players to make it work. Each of Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill is a threat to perform multiple roles in that offense, whether run blocking, pass blocking, lining up at any spot and running routes to any depth. That is what makes them so hard to defend rather than, say, the Saints, where the offense is still excellent but the roles are more defined: Ted Ginn is the fly guy and Michael Thomas is the possession receiver and Michael Hoomanawanui is the blocking tight end. Any of Kansas City's guys can run a sweep, or take a screen 80 yards, or get open as the iso receiver and beat a defender deep. It does, however, mean that when any of those guys is hurt or absent, the entire offense suffers because it removes the three-player multiple-level threat. Kelce is the most important of the three to the scheme, so of course it was Kelce who was knocked out against the Titans as their season ended.

Bryan: Sure, if you want to get all analytic about it rather than just pointing out the weird thing, I guess that makes sense. But now it's time for Patrick Mahomes to see what he can get out of those multi-dimensional offensive players, as Alex Smith travels once again to a team that needs solid, mistake-free quarterback play as they develop a quarterback from the draft. (Alex Smith: Jaguars quarterback?)

Your mistake in taking the under on the Chargers is pretty easy to explain, though. It is the most Chargers thing in the world to miss the playoffs because of three or four Chargers Bingo losses (see: YoungHoe Koo. See: the Jaguars game. I could go on). That means you have to be good enough that any one of those flipping the other way would have made you a playoff team. When in doubt, pick the Chargers record that will hurt the most.

Andrew: I simply expected the offensive line to be much worse than it was. Nobody blows games like the Chargers, so expecting them to both be slightly worse than they were under a rookie head coach and still be the most astonishingly unlucky team in the universe looked a perfect recipe for 7-9. That they landed at 9-7 instead is testament to the roster, which looks much better now that those linemen have proven competent than it did at the start of the year.

Bryan: I almost forgot I HOT TAEKED the Raiders, saying they'd actually be bad this season. That was one where I could have ended up with a ton of egg on my face, but man, with how lucky the Raiders were in 2016, I just ... no. I didn't see double-digit wins at all. A head-scratcher of a line at the time, and even less understandable now.

Andrew: I did not think that they would be as bad as they were, but I agree -- no way were they likely to hit ten wins again. Denver too, were grossly overestimated. We both got that the defense would still be good, and that the offense would be woeful. I would not have expected quite so few wins in the final standings, but they fully deserved that 5-11 record. Theirs will be an interesting offseason, with the number of quarterbacks who are likely to be available.

At this point in the review, I'm feeling pretty darn good about my predictions, incidentally. 3-1 in every division, 15-5 overall. If only that were sustainable...


Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Arizona 8 Over Over Push 0
L.A. Rams 5.5 Over Over Over +5.5
San Francisco 4.5 Over Under Over +1.5
Seattle 10.5 Over Over Under -1.5
Overall 2-1-1 1-2-1

Bryan: "What if Jared Goff is just bad," I said. Well, we're still waiting to see what would happen in that case, because, uh, he was slightly better than anticipated. Saying I nailed it is a little bit of a stretch, because I thought "hey, maybe they'll go 7-9! That's over, right?" And, I mean, that wasn't wrong, but...

Andrew: "If Goff is merely replacement level then the Rams are probably hitting the over, possibly 8-8. If he's any better than that, they're playoff contenders."

I'm happy to extract that quote, and just ignore the part at the end where I said six or seven wins.

Bryan: We'll count it! Just like I'm going to count the fact that I hit the 49ers head on with a 6-10 pick, and not mention that that's almost entirely because they went out and got Jimmy Garoppolo midseason. I really thought they were all in on Cousins, but I will take what I can get. Long live the Lynchahan San Fran Master Plan!

Andrew: Garrotted by Garoppolo: the story of my 2017 49ers projection. I was, however, correct that the future had potential, just not the immediate future. The first half of the season was immediate, and the second half of the season was potential! Look for the 49ers to be by far the most overhyped team in the league in 2018.

Bryan: I've already started! If we still used the old 100-attempt limit for qualifying quarterbacks, Garoppolo would have had the highest DVOA in the league this year. All hail Jimmy G. At the very least, give me all the Shanahan-McVay games for the next five years. Yes, please. The world will be a better place, getting to watch those.

Andrew: Arizona was the perfect argument against whole-number lines, or for them if you're on the side of the house. They hit exactly their Vegas line, so I've given us a tie. No pushing permitted! They gave us both sides of the Cardinals too: a team that could beat the Jaguars in a last-minute come-from-behind win with Blaine Gabbert, and a team that was stomped 34-7 and 33-0 in consecutive road games with Carson Palmer.

Bryan: As for Seattle, the offensive line was, somehow, worse than we expected, and brought the running game down with it. Add to that the Rams being better than advertised, and you had a surprising under, even on a very high line. Russell Wilson is a magician, but even magicians need their lovely assistants.

Andrew: They lost a lot of players to injury, too, and Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor may never play again. They have a lot of work to do this offseason, perhaps beginning with persuading some other team to hire Tom Cable.

Bryan: The greatest trick of Russell Wilson's career!


Andrew: Finally, our preseason North over/unders article can be found here.

Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Baltimore 8 Over Over Over +1
Cincinnati 8.5 Under Under Under -1.5
Cleveland 4.5 Over Over OOPS -4.5
Pittsburgh 10.5 Over Over Over +2.5
Overall 3-1 3-1

Andrew: Cleveland aside, this division is usually a nightmare to project. Ironically, Cleveland is also the only team both of us got wrong.

Bryan: No team could be that bad two years in a row, right? If Hue Jackson is even a halfway competent coach…

...Oh. Oh my.

Andrew: I just ... I mean ... I don't ... like ... HOW? How does a guy take a team with that many decent-to-good players, lose that many games, have them look so often like they are completely unprepared, blame everybody other than himself for what's happening, and still keep his job?

Bryan: "That many" being a relative term, but your point stands.

Andrew: Is it though? In a couple of our preseason segments, we tried to name actual, objectively good players on the Jets and 49ers. It's really not difficult for Cleveland: Joe Thomas. Myles Garrett. Duke Johnson. Emmanuel Ogbah. Joe Schobert.

Bryan: Joel Bitonio. Kevin Zeitler. Jason McCourty. Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Derrick Kindred. Danny Shelton.

Andrew: So how do they end up 0-16, and 1-31 over a two-year period? Is the bottom of the roster really college-level bad?

Bryan: Well, we notably don't have a quarterback on that list, which is a ton of that. But plenty of teams without quarterbacks go 4-12! I mean, we're not asking for much here.

Andrew: The handling of the quarterback is also Exhibit A for why there is no way this team should have retained Jackson.

Bryan: You'd also expect some improvement just from regression to the mean. Football Perspective actually did a bit of a study on this sort of thing a few years back. From 2003 to 2014, the best-fit formula for predicting a team's wins from their year N-1 wins was 5.51 + 0.31*Year N-1 Wins. That means, if you finished 1-15, you'd expect 6.82 wins the next year, all things being equal. It's more than fair for Cleveland fans to demand more out of their team; NO ONE should be this bad for this long.


Andrew: So our optimism for Cleveland was justifiable, if ultimately unfounded. Every other team, we got right to a greater or lesser degree. The Ravens are, indeed, well-coached enough to keep winning in spite of their quarterback's underachievement, though it did ultimately cost them a playoff spot. The Bengals were indeed closer to a top-five draft pick (they pick 12th) than a playoff berth. Roethlisberger was indeed unscathed, and so the Steelers went over ten wins.

Bryan: The Bengals were the other team I got spot-on predicting their overall record. My second HOT TAEK of the year -- the Steelers being the best team in the NFL if everyone stayed healthy -- I'd call less successful. They've been good, but better than the Patriots? Eh. Not so much. The defense took a small step forward, and not the big one I was predicting. Ah well -- they were my preseason Super Bowl team, and at least they're still alive with a shot. That's more than I can say about my NFC team (hiya, Seattle). But I switched to Seattle at the last minute! I could have stuck with my previous pick, which was *checks notes* Green Bay.

...which segues us nicely into...


Andrew: ... the division neither of us had a single actual clue about whatsoever.

Team Line Bryan Andrew Actual +/-
Chicago 5.5 Over Over Under -0.5
Detroit 8 Under Under Over +1
Green Bay 10 Over Over Under -3
Minnesota 8.5 Under Under Over +4.5
Overall 0-4 0-4

Andrew: I mean look at those prediction records. That's beautiful. We could hardly have been more wrong, both missing by at least three wins on half of the division's teams.

Bryan: Green Bay's an understandable mulligan, of course, but Minnesota was the other one I was referring to when I was talking about my biggest misses of the year.

Andrew: To be fair, we did not know at the time that they would have lost their starting quarterback too. Ahem.

Bryan: But I was already accounting for Sam Bradford not being any good! I was way down on Bradford, so, in theory, the jump to Keenum should have only made things worse! I just thought we'd see no improvement from the offensive line.

Andrew: Expecting no improvement from a line that started roughly eleventy-billion players due to injuries last year was perhaps over the top, but I did not expect them to be actually decent. Quite good, even!

Bryan: They thought Mike Remmers was an improvement. That was enough for me to write them off entirely. Instead, they ranked sixth in adjusted sack rate this year!

Andrew: Some of that is due to Case Keenum's uncannily excellent pocket awareness, which might qualify as the single most unexpected line I've ever written about football.

Bryan: So, yeah. Call Philadelphia my worst miss, because we should have seen Wentz's improvement coming, but this wasn't that far behind. Unexpected, perhaps, but still off by a mile and a half.

Andrew: The Lions and Bears are both roughly where we -- and Vegas -- thought they were, but whole number betting lines must die and so must unspeakably conservative NFL coaching.

Back to 2018

Bryan: As I said at the end of the last Over/Under article, it's time to see which one of us looks clever and which one of us looks much less clever indeed. If you've been counting along the way, you probably know the answer already.

Andrew: ... and it does not look particularly good for my esteemed colleague. Bryan posted an overall record against the Vegas lines of 16-15-1, with the tie being awarded for Arizona hitting the line perfectly. That is, at least, a winning record. It does not matter how many you win by, as long as you win!

Bryan: ...Until you take into account the vig.

My right honorable friend, on the other hand, might have actually made money in Vegas this offseason. Andrew finishes with a 19-12-1 record, a significantly superior performance.

Andrew: Much like Jeremy Irons portraying a cartoon lion, I despise guessing games.

Bryan: To get more into the nitty-gritty, we only disagreed on seven teams. Andrew was in the right on five of them: Atlanta, Dallas, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Washington. Perhaps befitting my childhood as a West Coast kid, I did manage to beat him on San Francisco and the L.A. Chargers, as apparently I'm only correct when I can see the Pacific Ocean.

If there's any consolation for me, it's that eight of my misses were by a game or less, so I was a few bounces away from a more respectable record. Only four of Andrew's losses were by a hair, and he actually had more "big" misses that I did. We both whiffed hard on Philadelphia, New Orleans, Seattle, Cleveland, Green Bay and Minnesota, but Andrew missed by multiple games on the Chargers and 49ers, while only the Jaguars made me look like a complete idiot.

Still, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and if the Chargers don't get to make the playoffs, then I don't get to count any victories. Congratulations, Andrew.

Andrew: You are, as always, too kind. It is, as always, a pleasure. There's always next season!

We still have much to determine before then, of course. Join us next week when we might even contrive to actually discuss the playoff action! In more than just the awards section, that is.

Staff Playoff Fantasy Update

Bryan: Right, OK. That strategy of picking all the Rams, all the time, is something of a mixed bag, shall we say. Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp each got me double-digits, which is exactly what you need to win this thing. They also, uh, all are done for the year now that the Rams are out. So, you know. That could be going better. I'm not out of it yet, or anything -- no one's out of it after just the wild-card weekend! -- but it's very difficult to argue that I'm not doing the worst of all the staff teams by a fairly significant margin. Oops.

Andrew has jumped into an early lead thanks to a big day from Drew Brees, but no one was more gutted than he was when the Chiefs blew their lead against the Titans. Well, maybe Chiefs fans were slightly more peeved, but come on, which is more important -- a Super Bowl, or the Staff Playoff Fantasy Championship? A no-brainer, there. Down four Chiefs after one week, Andrew's in a spot of bother, though at least Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce got him double-digits before they went down.

The person in the best position may well be Rivers, who rode Blake Bortles (yes! Even with sub-100 yards passing!), Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman to the second-best score of the week and maintains an entirely intact roster. If the Jags can upset the Steelers, look out -- Rivers could race all the way to the title.

The other three teams haven't really kicked off yet. Aaron was fortunate enough to get a big day from Derrick Henry -- with a second week on the table -- but his Pats-heavy squad hasn't really kicked into gear yet. Vince isn't far behind him, only losing Sammy Watkins in the first week. Scott's in a bit more trouble, though -- he had the lowest-scoring wild-card week of anyone, and lost his quarterback and a receiver in the first week. He's probably doing worse than anyone who didn't write Scramble this week.

Bryan Andrew Aaron Vince Rivers Scott
QB Jared Goff Drew Brees Tom Brady Ben Roethlisberger Blake Bortles Alex Smith

16 24 0 0 16 22
RB Todd Gurley Kareem Hunt Derrick Henry Le'Veon Bell Alvin Kamara Dion Lewis

11 10 24 0 9 0
RB Rex Burkhead Leonard Fournette Jay Ajayi Mark Ingram Devonta Freeman Latavius Murray

0 7 0 3 12 0
WR Robert Woods Tyreek Hill Brandin Cooks JuJu Smith-Schuster Antonio Brown Adam Thielen

14 9 0 0 0 0
WR Cooper Kupp Keelan Cole Michael Thomas Ted Ginn Julio Jones Devin Funchess

12 0 13 17 16 7
WR Alshon Jeffery Mohamed Sanu Stefon Diggs Sammy Watkins Chris Hogan Danny Amendola

0 7 0 2 0 0
TE Rob Gronkowski Travis Kelce Kyle Rudolph Delanie Walker Austin Hooper Zach Ertz

0 12 0 7 1 0
K Harrison Butker Wil Lutz Stephen Gostkowski Ryan Succop Chris Boswell Kai Forbath

3 10 0 5 0 0
D Los Angeles Kansas City New England New Orleans Jacksonville Minnesota

0 3 0 1 6 0
Total 56 82 37 35 60 29

Best of the Rest

Bryan: My poor wild-card performance means that I'm in real danger of losing out to the best of the best of the rest, so that will be something to watch going forward.

In fact, one of the Best of the Rest teams actually beat any of us this week: Smilerz racked up 83 points, crushing our leader Andrew by one whole point! The problem he has, of course, is that he achieved this by going heavy on the Panthers -- Cam Newton got him 25 points, while Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, and Graham Gano earned him double-digits as well. They obviously won't be of much help down the line, but jumping out to a big early lead will help him hold off everyone else from the comments. In fact, all three of our leaders picked Newton, McCaffrey, and Olsen -- key for an early lead, but perhaps not so great for eventual victory. There are a couple of entirely intact teams, including MichaelInMelbourne's Falcon-heavy bonanza, that perhaps have more potential going forward.

Top 5:

  • 1. Smilerz (83 points) (Still alive: Nelson Agholor, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns)
  • 2. Ryan D (76 points) (Still alive: Nelson Agholor, Marqise Lee, Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh DEF)
  • 3. Sid (56 points) (Still alive: Jerrick McKinnon, Nelson Agholor, Marqise Lee, Martavis Bryant, Jake Elliott, Pittsburgh DEF)
  • T4. Laufy (44 points) (Still alive: Case Keenum, Tevin Coleman, Rishard Matthews, Allen Hurns, Martavis Bryant, Jesse James, Matt Bryant, Pittsburgh DEF)
  • T4. MichaelInMelbourne (44 points) (Still alive: Matt Ryan, James White, Tevin Coleman, Martavis Bryant, Taylor Gabriel, Allen Hurns, Jesse James, Matt Bryant, Atlanta DEF)


Keep Choppin' Wood: This comment might have resulted in entertainment, spectacle, perhaps even an article-changing moment altering the fate of Scramble! Sadly, it was blown dead before it even got started. Thanks, Jeff Triplette.

Triplette's most baffling, bewildering, and generally terrible call -- that Marcus Mariota's forward progress was stopped mid-air while falling backward on a fumble-generating sack by Derrick Johnson -- was not the worst moment of the referee's career. It was, however, the most incompetent moment of the entire wild-card weekend -- a weekend, remember, in which the Rams lost two fumbles on punt returns in the first quarter of a home playoff defeat. Yes, this was worse than that. Triplette not only deprived the Chiefs of Justin Houston's potential touchdown fumble return, he made the only possible call that could not be challenged to overturn the glaringly obvious mistake. That error directly contributed to three points for the eventual winner of a game ultimately decided by one. Enjoy your retirement, Jeff. We know we will.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: The Jaguars-Bills playoff game was notable for many things, but quality, sustained offense was not one of them. Thus, it was both surprising and welcome when the home-team Jaguars, denied a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, elected not to kick a field goal for the three-point lead. Instead, they lined up in a heavy formation and ran a play-action fake, with backup tight end Ben Koyack catching the rare relatively-accurate pass from Blake Bortles to give the Jaguars the 10-3 lead. No further scoring ensued, and the Jaguars advance to face Pittsburgh in the divisional round.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: The Falcons won, but Dan Quinn might want to brush up on his two-point chart before the divisional round. With just under six minutes left in the game, Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones to give the Falcons a 25-13 lead. That's 12 points. With a 12-point lead, the chart says to go for two. Advanced analytics says to go for two. Basic counting says to go for two. This isn't a situation where there's a ton of time left and chasing points could come back to haunt you later; the Rams weren't going to get more than two possessions in the rest of the game. In that scenario, there is essentially no difference between a 12-point and a 13-point lead, while a 14-point lead means you survive two Los Angeles touchdown drives. Quinn's on record as saying that he prefers his gut to analytics when it comes to making these decisions, but this was really a rookie-level mistake.

'Double Dipping' Fantasy Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota had an all-timer of a play. For just the second time in NFL history, a quarterback threw a touchdown pass ... to himself. An extra bonus if you're in a PPR league!

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: Football Twitter was startled this offseason when the Chiefs cut top receiver Jeremy Maclin with no obvious replacement on the roster, but the season's results suggest that decision was largely justified. Though depth is a concern, Kansas City's "big three" of Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill all rank in the top eight of the DYAR tables for their respective positions. Kelce in particular had another excellent year: more than a thousand yards receiving and a top-two DYAR finish for the second consecutive season have sealed his place as the second-most productive tight end in the game. Kansas City's season may have ended with a whimper on Saturday, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes -- widely expected to take over the starting job this offseason -- could hardly ask for a better supporting cast to ease his transition into the big time.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: Derrick Henry had a heck of a day replacing the injured DeMarco Murray, rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown. No run was bigger, however, than his last -- sprung by a block from Mariota, Henry picked up the first down, allowing the Titans to kneel out the clock and pick up their first playoff win since 2003.

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: Well I got the right winner in the national championship game, but the margin was too low. Curses!

It's really very strange to see an 11-5 sixth seed favored on the road against a deserved 13-3 top seed, but that is what we have in Philadelphia this weekend. Even stranger, I expect the Falcons to both win and cover: the Eagles have looked inept without Carson Wentz, other than in Nick Foles' first start against the Giants. I have rated the Falcons highly all year, and I would fancy their chances of making this a competitive game even with Wentz available. Without him, I'm buying the Falcons hype. Atlanta (-3) at Philadelphia.

Bryan: Let's be blunt. I want to win this. I am not in a good position to win this. With three weeks left in the season, my only chance for an out-and-out win is to get the next three weeks right while Andrew gets them all wrong. That leaves me with no alternative but to pick Philadelphia (+3) at home against the Falcons. It's not just Carson Wentz that led the Eagles to the top overall seed, after all; 11 guys take the field at the same time!

... OK, that wasn't very convincing, but I've been backed into a corner here. To victory!

Records to date:
Andrew: 9-8
Bryan: 7-10

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, your playoff picks, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 10 Jan 2018

25 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2018, 2:20pm by Will Allen


by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:11pm

"Andrew: Oi! Relentless mockery of the Buccaneers is my domain!"

Yeah, well . . .

I got nothin'. I will say that Winston was a better QB this year; his completion % was up, INT% was down, better yards/attempt, seemed to make fewer inexplicably stupid decisions in crisis. I mean, he still made them, because, yeah, that's who he is. He'll extend a play as long as he can and sometimes it's great and sometimes it's like Josh McCown has come back for a play or two.

I guess this year's draft class was good? O.J. Howard, Justin Evans, Chris Godwin, and Kendell Beckwith all contributed from the first four rounds. So, you know, there's that, I guess?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:39pm

To be fair, the Bucs' last four games of the season were against winning teams in the top half of the league in DVOA, and they lost three by a field goal each, and won the last one. I was actually impressed with how they looked in the last quarter of the season, despite a parade of injuries.

by Cheesehead_Canuck :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 9:41am

Counterpoint: they lost to the Hundley Packers. ;)

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 12:47pm

Lol, true. But don't let facts get in the way! I purposely left that game outside of my arbitrary 4-game cutoff for a reason.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:45pm

"So how do they end up 0-16, and 1-31 over a two-year period? Is the bottom of the roster really college-level bad?"

No, it's definitely not. That's the most infuriating thing about Hue Jackson's attitude about his record. He's acting like he was given the 1976-77 Buccaneers, and nothing could be further from the truth. An inflatable sex toy doll dressed in Browns apparel, or better yet, the exhumed corpse of John Mckay, would have coached the Browns to 5-11.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:56pm

This is their story for years. It wasn't that long ago that they had one of the best offensive lines in the league. A guy like Parcells could take that, stick just about any stiff behind the center, and make a run at the playoffs. All wasted on the Browns.

by techvet :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:35pm

Q: "Coach, what do you think of the execution of your team?"
A: "I'm all for it."

by smilerz :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:48pm

If you are prone to conspiracy theories you might think he intentionally tanked to get Sashi fired in order to get a 'real' GM that didn't rely on maths and things.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 4:04pm

It doesn't take much math to recognize that 1-31 is bad.

by Alternator :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 11:28pm


by bingo762 :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:11pm

Would be nice if you could provide a link to the 2018 Playoff Challenge - Season Standings in this article for the readers

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:15pm

That's generally not a Scramble thing, but here's the link, and we'll consider putting it in in future:


by bingo762 :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:19pm

Thanks. Sorry for the double post. Put it anywhere, just don't make us dig for it. Your column seemed appropriate considering yours has a section for playoff fantasy

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 3:46pm

You can also find it in the "Playoff Challenge" section, under "More" in the top menu. Right under where you go to check the Loser League standings.

by bingo762 :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 4:55pm

Aha! Did not know that. Thanks again

by bingo762 :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:11pm

Would be nice if you could provide a link to the 2018 Playoff Challenge - Season Standings in this article for the readers

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:20pm

Bryan, you can't see the Pacific Ocean from Santa Clara.

Granted, you couldn't from Candlestick, either.


I tried to warn you guys against going heavy on Rams and Chiefs. I laid down in front of that trolley, but you refused to throw the switch on the tracks. Folly!

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 3:42pm

This is only true if you do not consider the San Francisco Bay as part of the Pacific Ocean, which is a question for hydrologists. As someone who lived in San Jose for years, I can confirm that yes, you can see that from Santa Clara (and, for that matter, from Candlestick).

Also, next time, warn us BEFORE the draft! Time flows one way, man!

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 4:04pm

Not according to John Titor or Otis Ray.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:22pm

Someone really needs to do a retrospective on Triplette's career of failure.

Somehow it fell down the memory hole that Triplette blinded a player! He maimed as many people as Jack Tatum!

by Crunchums :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 3:56pm

Andrew's Overall number in the NFC West table is wrong

by TheIdealGrassLaw :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 9:33pm

You're alive in this. You just need Rob Gronkowski to catch a bunch of TD passes from Brian Hoyer.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:05pm

Nobody could predict the Vikings o-line being as good as it has been. Too many unknowns.On the other hand, an average performance was foreseeable, as was the receiving corps being healthier. If the opinion that Bradford is no good was based on a prediction of Bradford getting hurt, that's reasonable. If it was based on what a healthy Bradford might do with average blocking, healthy Vikings receivers, and the Vikings defense, then you didn't pay attention to how Bradford played last year. He carried that offense to a middling DVOA rank, despite zero protection, zero running game, and a banged up receiving corps

Bradford played extremely well, and if his streak of decent health luck had carried through this season, I'd wager he'd be a strong MVP candidate

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:51pm

Yeah, it was mostly "Sam Bradford hasn't played a complete season since 2012 and has knees made of glass. When he inevitably gets injured, Case Keenum comes in to replace him, and Keenum is terrible."

Like I said, second-worse prediction I made!

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 2:20pm

Hey, I had them pegged at 9-10 wins. Did not see their blocking performance coming, at all.